Talking About Children on Social Media

Sometimes, I find it impossible to make my point in a succession of 140-character tweets. This recent tweet about an article titled Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children

…led to an exchange that got me thinking and also resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t really articulated my thoughts on the subject thoroughly.

Social Media Choices

The exchange led to two thoughts:

  1. Honestly, my first impulse was a knee-jerk reaction to the term “mommy blogger” rather than an urge to delve into the article the tweet linked to. I don’t love the term. Or, to be specific I don’t love the term as it applies to me. I’ve always incorporated MANY topics into my blog in addition to the fact that I’m a parent. I enjoy blogging in leadership and public relations circles, and I recoiled the first time a “leadership blogger” acquaintance referred to me as a “mommy blogger.” Had he NOT READ my blogs about customer service, supervision, and corporate culture?
  2. A desire to dig a bit deeper into the topics the article addressed.

NOTE: Christine wrote a post related to this topic on August 15. Click here to read it.

Blogging About Our Children

I am glad I didn’t start blogging when my kids were little. 

I published my first-ever blog post on May 17, 2008. It was a whopping four sentences long and did not contain any images but it did contain a reference to my son, who was 8 at the time. On June 28, 2009, I declared my intention to blog weekly (and I have, missing maybe five weeks in the seven years between now and then). At first, I intended for every blog to be about running (although the blog declaring my intention to post weekly contained a picture of my son too!).

As time progressed, I branched out from running. In the 700+ posts I’ve published since then, I’ve discussed my sock drawer, people and companies that provide incredible customer service, running (in prison and elsewhere), a convenience store bathroom, causes I love such as Shot at Life, and many other topics.

am glad I didn’t start blogging until my kids were 7 and 10. I am pretty sure I would have been an oversharer if I had been blogging through my pregnancies and childbirth, as well as my children’s early years. I have read quite a few blogs where I thought “holy crap this blogger is sharing a LOT of personal info” and “I’m not sure that kid is going to be glad his mom shared that picture of him at eighteen months wearing his sister’s tutu on his head and his superhero underoos on his butt when he is 18 years old.” But that’s up to that blogger, and I can always move on and read something else.

Does an alias name protect a blogger’s children?

Some bloggers use aliases to protect their children’s identities. They may call “Susan” a name like “Ann” or they may call “Susan” an amusing moniker like “Doodlebug.” Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t do that is I could not pull it off consistently. It’s a lot of work to a) remember and b) implement.

My incredible friend Jess (Diary of a Mom) explained her rationale for using alternate names here, to give you one parent’s thoughts.

One of my earliest lessons.

Back in 2009, I thought it was HILARIOUS when I tagged my son’s stuffed animal in a picture. I just happened to show him, and he (at 10 years old) didn’t laugh – he immediately burst into tears. This incident was one of my first lessons in “what you find hilarious as a blogger, something you think your readers/Facebook friends will laugh at, will embarrass your child.” Hmmm.

Here’s what I wrote after that incident:

If I had not offhandedly mentioned to Wayne the “tagging,” he never would have known. However, it was something I did for me and not at all for him. I learned a lesson that a certain set of parents of 8 children [I was referring to Jon & Kate + 8] is completely missing right now (in my opinion): our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts. I may have 572 friends on Facebook who would get a chuckle out of something like this, but I only have two children counting on me to give them an emotional safe haven.

Nothing is Temporary on the Internet

I mean, nothing is temporary on the internet (even Snapchat). On the one hand, my blogs create a better “virtual baby book” than the paper baby books I’ve managed cobble together for my two children. On the other hand, what on earth is going to pop up 20/30/40 years from now when they google themselves?

So many opinions

I asked the smartest, savviest people I know (my friends!) their thoughts on the NYT article. Here are a few:

I wonder what it will be like for her [referring to her daughter] to read something at 10, 11, 12, 13. She’s very sensitive so I try to be mindful. But I think it’s a matter of personal choice and temperament. – Sili of @mymamihood

I think that we have a tendency to overshare on social media. When it comes to your own life, that’s up to you as an adult to decide if your trials, tribulations, joys and secrets should be shared with the world. Writing about your children – especially about topics they might find embarrassing – should be tread on lightly. – Kim F.

This really speaks to me. I had a blog a few years ago about parenting my son with autism. I stopped writing that particular blog for the same reason this writer discusses: He is a person and deserves his privacy. Both my kids still find their way into my work, but now they are carefully disguised as some kind of talking animal in a children’s play or the lyrics to a song. – Amanda B. of Making Light Productions

I share my failures in mothering because blogging is a virtual water-cooler of sorts.  I reveal *my downfalls* not her shortcomings. – Carla Birnberg of Unapologetically Myself (read her full post on the topic here)

I am very careful to not over share on social media. I feel strongly that it is their story to tell. – LeeAnn K.

I have been burned by over sharing in real life and online. I say things that are not ugly but brutally honest. That’s the way I was raised, but I always thought it was a southern bell thing. At some point I realized that it’s not the way my kids developed. They are quite opposite from me. – Kathy D.

There is a balance that is needed and each writer has to find it. – Velva K. of Tomatoes on the Vine.

My kids are old enough now that they actually ask me not to post certain things, not to take pictures of them, not to share stuff. It has become an issue of trust, and I pray I never violate theirs. – Rebecca B.

With all the problems we have in this world, we focus on things that are byproducts of overthinking. – Will L.

I stopped posting pics of my children online and talking about them is limited – when I was working on research project and learned how often pics of children are stolen and used on child porn sites. They take what would be innocent pics and pervert them. – Kora R.

For Me, It Boils Down to This

If I were to scrub references to my children, my parenting, and my family life from my blog and social media presence, that would be as much a misrepresentation of who I really am than it would be to share every moment, even those with the potential to embarrass or humiliate my children either now or decades down the road.

When I began blogging, it was “to exercise my writing muscle,” but it has become much more. It is part diary, large part therapy, part family documentation … it is many things which bring me joy and hopefully educate/inspire others along the way.

What I don’t want it to be is an ill-considered instrument of destruction. To repeat what I said back in 2009: “our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.”

I suppose with seven years of blogging experience behind me, from the perspective of a parent of a 17-year old and a 20-year old, I would change the “think before taking liberties” phrase to something different:

Our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking not knowingly take liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.

What are your thoughts on parents who blog about their children?

Social Media Choices

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20 thoughts on “Talking About Children on Social Media

  1. Hey Paula – one question – what behooves you to represent your whole self online? You say “If I were to scrub references to my children, my parenting, and my family life from my blog and social media presence, that would be as much a misrepresentation of who I really am…”

    I think we all need to talk about this, and the undercurrent of the internet’s exploitation of mothers with careers, especially. “SHARE!” was the command, and we obeyed. And all of the lies came along with it, lies of “integrity” and “honesty” and “real experiences.” For what? So advertisers could make money. I’ll post about this, but the NYT article misses the trap many women fell in during those heady, early days.

    • First of all, thank you for a Twitter exchange that made me think this through, something I had not done in a while. You have a good question (about the “whole self.”) For me, much of it ties into my background (my education is in child development, counseling and human systems, etc.) I realize that doesn’t mean I HAVE TO talk about my personal life, but it fits for me. // I do think you raise some important questions (questions to which I don’t have the answers!). // I definitely think the NYT article was ONE individual’s perspective, for sure. Like I said, if blogging had been around when I was pregnant/parenting babies/toddlers, I am pretty positive I would have overshared and been a bit insufferable, while missing some of the magic you only catch when you are paying your full undivided attention to your infant (if you can stay awake due to the sleep deprivation LOL). // One more thing although it’s kind of a wandering aside —- I have gotten TRUE support and gained TRUE friendships from being part of the blogging community. It takes a lot of consistency, discretion, and management of relationships for that to work but my life is definitely the better for it. That includes parenting support.

  2. I agree with you Paula. If someone calls you a Mommy Blogger and that bothers you than edit your family themes in your writing. If you think you should not share something about your family, do not share it! I think of the future. Am I ranting and not musing?I try to ask myself in 5 years will this work of posts look like it is informative and humorous or just the ramblings of a middle aged woman?

    • Great points Haralee. And sometimes I feel it’s disingenuous to do what I do – say I’m writing “for me” and then pray I get comments! But the “5 year” question is a good one. Might even lead me to a post — where I look back at one from 5 years ago and write it as if it were a new topic to me now. Guess there’s SOME good out of having all those years of blog posts around!

  3. Some of the most successful “Mommy” bloggers have made their children the center of their blogs and exploited their worst, most unhappy moments. The argument I have heard from bloggers who do this (in response to a post I wrote a few years ago about this topic) is “by sharing my experience other moms won’t feel so alone.” Ok.

    I am grateful I never had to deal with this since my kids were in college when I started my blog. When I have written about them – whether about their childhood or about them now – I have always asked their permission. Fortunately, they have never said no.

    • I definitely have a personal “ewwww” line for disclosures that are too graphic, too personal, or too invasive of a child’s privacy but mostly I just click out and move on. // Outside of (or in addition to) blogging, I have found my social media choices with my children evolving. I was heartbroken when my 8th grader “unfriended” me on Facebook but now that she’s 20 I probably wouldn’t care (as much) — it’s just different and I have such a better sense of how she handles herself on social media.

  4. While my kids are grown, it is an unspoken understanding that they are not part of my blog. Except, when I need to mention how something I did, which makes me look ridiculous, may have involved them. But I do not mention them by name.

  5. I asked a teacher of mine, who has a memoir out about motherhood, publishes personal essays and also has a blog, what she thinks, since parenting is at the center of much of her writing. She said that she gets a funny feeling, a “gut feeling”, when she crosses the line in something she’s writing. She also said that she’s careful to keep her writing focuses on her own experience and herself, as opposed to anyone else, and that she always asks, now that her kids are teens. But her main strategy is being sure she doesn’t go too far is the same inner voice we all have, the one that makes us stop talking when we’re getting gossipy, or makes us remind the waiter when he forgot to put the drinks on our bill. We have a conscience, and most of us are capable of using it, along with some basic good judgement.

    • That’s a great way to look at it. I used to “vent” about my kids on Twitter. It felt pretty anonymous. Sort of a “yikes tweens are difficult” type of vent. But then they got on Twitter and I realized THAT was a bad habit to get into.

  6. The Huffington Post and Midlife Boulevard recently published my blog about how my grandkids took care of me. I included the kids’ photos, but I never include their names or where they live. I always tell my adult children when I’m posting something that includes photos of them or their kids. They don’t mind because they don’t read my blogs anyway.

  7. Pingback: Rage over mommy blogging (a bit) misplaced | PurpleCar

  8. I don’t have kids but before I started blogging I thought very carefully about what and how much I wanted to share publicly. In part for safety reasons (not wanting to be stalked, not wanting my house to be broken into) and in part because for me, it’s not about sharing my entire life online. It’s about sharing what feels right in terms of my boundaries and my mission, which is helping people find healthy food appealing. I think there was one time I wrote an essay that I thought was about me, but to my husband it felt like it was about him, and critical of him. I would never want to hurt someone I love, so I have always been very careful since then. This (and the original article) was a thoughtful piece. Thanks.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts – ALL of which make perfect sense. It is definitely easy to throw something out to the universe which is ill-advised. No matter what age we are, we all need to remember that.

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